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Strong Rebounding Teams Meet in Nebraska Women’s Basketball’s Matchup Against Texas A&M

by Mar 22, 2024Nebraska Womens Basketball

Nebraska Cornhuskers center Alexis Markowski
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska women’s basketball’s challenge against Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament starts in the frontcourt.

The Aggies bring size down low, starting 6-foot-4 Janiah Barker next to 6-foot-5 Lauren Ware. Those two combine for 21.3 points per game, 15.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.0 steals. Their success on the glass leads a team that ranks in the top 30 nationally in total rebound rate and offensive rebound rate. 

That work on the offensive glass is key for a squad that isn’t particularly efficient on that end of the floor. They rank just inside the top 150 in field goal percentage, but come in at a horrid 289th in 3-point percentage and 294th in free-throw percentage.

“Obviously we know that we’re going to have to keep them off the glass, and that’s a huge key,” Husker head coach Amy Williams said Thursday.

Nebraska seems to be a team fit to do so, ranking sixth in the country in defensive rebounding rate. Maryland and Michigan were the second and third-best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten this year, and the Huskers — holding the top spot — limited them on the glass in building a 4-0 record against the two. 

Junior center Alexis Markowski is Nebraska’s leader there, averaging 10.8 boards. She averaged 12.7 in the final three games of the Big Ten tourney, each performance coming against a team selected for the NCAA Tournament. 

She’ll need to continue that level of play on Friday against the best rebounding team the Huskers have faced. 

“They’re a really physical team, and they’re really good at rebounding. I think they average about 14 offensive rebounds,” Markowski said, correctly recalling the number (14.6 per game). “So that’s really important for us.”

There are other areas where Texas A&M’s frontcourt will make a difference, too. Williams noted that Nebraska’s transition defense has to be sharp, as any Aggie is capable of pushing the pace.

“They’re very, very dangerous in transition,” she said. “… They don’t have to get the ball out of their forward’s hands. Their forwards can bring the ball up the floor and handle it and make good decisions.”

Barker in particular has impressive ability as a ball handler. She was ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2022 and is dangerous on both ends. True freshman Husker forward Natalie Potts will likely be the one to draw that defensive assignment. 

Both teams have talent throughout their lineup, but the play Nebraska receives from its posts may be a major factor in deciding the result. 

Other notes:

>> Texas A&M head coach Joni Taylor gave a nice breakdown of what impresses her about the Huskers. She pointed to four of five starters receiving some sort of postseason honor as evidence of their talent.

“They play with great pace, and then they can also slow you down, pound it inside,” she said. “They just have weapons all over the floor, and it makes it hard to double because they can hit you from three.”

Nebraska’s offense may draw the most attention, but Taylor said the Huskers are just as good defensively as well. 

>> Despite the spotlight on the frontcourt, don’t sleep on Texas A&M’s guard group. 

Aicha Coulibaly leads the Aggies in scoring with 13.2 points per game and shoots a team-best 51.8% from the field, doing most of her work inside the arc. She’s coming off a 32-point performance in a loss to South Carolina and averages 2.4 steals per game as well.

Endyia Rogers holds down the point guard spot. She averages 12.5 points and 3.9 assists, and Texas A&M finished the regular season 1-5 with her out due to injury.

Taylor referenced a text she received from Aggie men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams in discussing her importance. 

“What he said to me was, ‘With Endyia back on the floor, it looks like everybody can sit back in their normal seat at the table,’” she said. “I think that’s what she does for us. There’s a calm.”

>> No. 3 seed Oregon State hosts this pod of the bracket, meaning Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley returned to the state — and an arena — she once played in. 

There were plenty of good memories, but Shelley also recalled that the first time she played at Gill Coliseum was January 26, 2021, the day Kobe Bryant passed away.

“It was kind of a weird feeling there,” she said.

Longtime Beavers head coach Scott Rueck coached against Shelley, and also recruited her. He had praise for the player she was then and the one she’s become. 

“As I was watching her, she was a reluctant scorer,” he said. “She was the player that you wouldn’t notice for a while… you had to really watch her. And if you’re watching her, she’s controlling the game defensively and offensively.”

“Now, it’s cool to see her get to step up as a scorer and be so aggressive.”

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